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UH dashboard shows map of possible fuel contaminants in Oʻahu's tap water

Red Hill Well water sampling
Petty Officer 2nd Class MarQueon/Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
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Digital
AIEA, Hawaii (April 22, 2022) A Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command contractor collects a water sample from a granular activated carbon filter as a part of real-time monitoring at Red Hill Well. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mar’Queon A. D. Tramble)

The University of Hawaiʻi Red Hill Task Force has released a Tap Water Screening Dashboard showing places on Oʻahu where fuel-based contaminants may be found in tap water.

UH has collected samples from the community since February. They use a fluorescent screening tool to see particular spectral signatures in tap water. Some jet fuel compounds are fluorescent.

The task force made clear that the method was for screening. It is not meant to replace more stringent testing approved by the Environmental Protection Agency or the state Department of Health.

But by using this method, the task force can analyze samples faster.

Thomas Giambelluca, director of the UH Mānoa Water Resources Research Center, said in a statement that the method enables rapid screening of large numbers of samples at low cost, and results are ready within a few days of sampling.

Residents who have a positive detection through the screening should be concerned.

“There are a variety of ways that fluorescence writ large and specific fluorescent characteristics that look like JP-5, as I've said before, can show up in tap pipes," said Craig Nelson, an oceanography associate research professor at UH Mānoa.

"But the vast majority of the samples we've collected are negative. They're like, they have nothing in them. So when we get a positive detect, absolutely, if I had it in my house, I would be pushing for a proper test. And I would not drink the water until then," Nelson said.

UH first released the information last Tuesday, but retracted it and closed the dashboard until Friday.

UH spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl took responsibility for releasing the information prematurely and said the data in the dashboard did not change.

The data dashboard can be found at redhill.hawaii.edu.

Jason Ubay is a news editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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